Boxer Profile: Marcus Oliveira
By: Laura Zink
By the time Marcus Oliveira moved to Kansas when he was 17 years old, he had a veritable lifetime of street fights under his belt, over 200 amateur boxing matches, and a laundry list of curfew tickets and arrests on his record. But even with all of these experiences, he was scarcely prepared for what he was about to encounter in his new home in Kansas. One of the first adjustments that he would have to make happened almost immediately. After attending high school for just six months, Oliveira had his first encounter with the Aryan Brotherhood.
“He was in a group,” Oliveira explained about the first Aryan Brother he ever met. “They had a little group. It was about 6 kids maybe. They had the same boots and…the jeans. I don’t remember his name. Anyway, class was about to start and I was standing with this black guy. The kid came running and bumped into both of us and he was like, “Watch out nigger.” And I didn’t take offense because I had never really been called that before. I grew up on the rez, and I knew I was a Native American. I didn’t take offense to it because I didn’t think that he was saying that to me. And then me and my friend were joking around about it. I said, ‘He said it to you.’ And he said, ‘No, he said it to you.’ And I said, ‘Why would he say it to me?’ I didn’t take offense to it because I didn’t think he was saying that to me. I don’t know, I mean the word didn’t hurt me, but I knew that he said it to try to hurt me.”
“Anyway, he walked by and bumped into us real hard, and he said that word and walked away,” Oliveira continued. “And I had just left the rez, so I had a hard attitude. So I said, ‘Well, I’m just going to kick his ass then at the end of the next session.’ So by the time the bell rang and the class ended and he started walking down the hallway, I stood against the wall. He walked by me, and I hooked him in the face. I didn’t think that I did it hard, but I did it really hard to where he just dropped. Everyone in the hallway heard this big ol’ smack, and he didn’t get up. He was just laying there. When he did get up he kept falling against the wall, and then he started kinda crawling to the office. That’s when the principal came out and was yelling and grabbed me by my shoulder. And after that was when the ambulance came and all that.”
With that one punch, Oliveira literally silenced the Aryan Brotherhood at his school with one knockout punch.
“I hit him so hard that his lip split in two,” Oliveira remembered. “His bottom lip was hanging in two pieces.”
Due to the severity of the injury, the parents’ of the Aryan youth tried to press charges against Oliveira for assault. Oliveira’s aunt, however, got the parents to drop the charges by threatening a counter claim of an aggravated hate crime. The charges were dropped. Oliveira, however, did not escape Scott free. Instead of being prosecuted, he was kicked out of school. And while he escaped legal prosecution that time, the next time he committed a crime, the punishment would be much more severe.
It happened just a few months later after Oliveira’s aunt moved back to Wisconsin, and he was taken in as a foster child by a teacher from his old high school. Her name was Carol, and she took guardianship of Oliveira after he was kicked out of school. Carol, her husband Bill, and Oliveira all moved to Ulysses, Kansas. Oliveira was enrolled in Ulysses High School and worked his first job at a fast food restaurant. After working there for a couple of months, he would get into trouble again, and this time, he would have to suffer the full punishment for the crime.
“I worked at a Dairy Queen, and I had some friends rob it,” Oliveira admitted. “They asked me how to open the cash register. I wasn’t there, but they asked me where everything was and I told them. I thought that since I wasn’t there that I wasn’t going to get in trouble. But they got caught, and I got what you call an “aiding and abetting” because I told them about the cash machine and where everything was at. After they found out that it was robbed and they found out who did it, they questioned them, and then the next day they came knocking on my door. In court, I remember the judge said, ‘I don’t care if it was 20 miles away or 50 miles away. I don’t give a damn. You care still party to the crime scene.’ But when they did a background check on me, they saw that I had never been in trouble before. They couldn’t find anything because reservations are sovereign nations. They couldn’t get into my records because it is like a different country. So, according to them, I had never been in trouble before. They were going to give me four or five years or something like that, but since I had never been in trouble before, I guess they were being lenient and they gave me two years.”
And what would they have found if they were able to crack open the records? How many arrests would there be from the reservation files?
“Um…a lot,” Oliveira said. “I don’t really know how many, but it was for stuff like breaking into cars, breaking into houses, curfew tickets…But if that crime would of happened on the rez, I probably wouldn’t have gotten in trouble.”
The trouble that Oliveira was getting into wasn’t all due to the fact that he was fighting and stealing. Part of the problem was due to adjusting to life outside of the reservation. For Oliveira adjusting to the rules, the laws, and lifestyle in off the reservation required major adjustments on his behalf.
“It’s hard to determine the laws from the reservation to outside the reservation because the laws were really different,” Oliveira explained about some of the differences. “The schools, too. And we speak differently, too. Like you know how African Americans got their slang? Like when I left the rez, I couldn’t understand what people were talking about. It was like a foreign language to me. And other cultures and races or whatever…like I had never been around a bunch of white people or a bunch of black people because on the rez, it’s always just Indians. That’s all I’d ever seen for my whole life unless I left the reservation to go to a boxing match. At a boxing fight was the only time that I would see them, or on TV or something.”
But it was after his sentencing that Oliveira would have to make one of his most major adjustments – understanding the severity of criminal punishment outside of the rez. Where on the reservation many of the crimes he previously committed resulted in, at most, an arrest and a call to his parents, in Kansas he would not only be sentenced and sent to prison, the courts made him wait to be tried as an adult before sentencing him. He would wait in the county jail in Ulysses for about 6 months awaiting trial. But as he waited, his guardians and the teachers at his new school would visit him in jail to help him finish his education.
“I actually graduated when I was locked up,” Oliveira commented. “I actually graduated twice. I graduated when I was locked up, got my diploma, got sent to prison and then they do the psychology stuff on you to see how you are mentally. You got to take all of these math tests and stuff, and they had to put me in school in the minimum because I flunked all the school stuff. I had to take classes when I was in prison. So I got locked up, go to school, get locked up again and go to class in the correctional facility in Windfield. Then I got another diploma.”
But before he began his classes at Windfield, Oliveira spent a couple of months in the Topeka Super-Maximum Prison. It was a lock-down facility, where the inmates were in their cells 23 out of 24 hours of the day. While Oliveira was there, he began to hear the guards talking about him.
“When I was in super-max because I had a babyface and whatnot,” Oliveira explained. “The guards didn’t think that I should have been there. I heard that a lot there. They would say, ‘You are too young to be in this jail’ that they ‘didn’t know why I was there’ that they ‘should’ve sent me to a boot camp’ or something. So what they did at the super-maximum prision was that they let me have a job. I got to walk around and mop the floors and stuff like that.”
After a couple of months, Oliveira was transferred to the Windfield Correctional Facility. And even though his sentence stretched for the whole 2 years, Oliveira did not tell his family back home that he had been locked up until the very end of his term.
“I didn’t want my family to know what happened to me,” Oliveira stated. “But when I was getting out, they found out that I was in there. I needed money because I owed somebody money. I had to send them money because I didn’t have no money on my books. We were betting for a game and I lost. So I called my family and told them that I needed money because I owed somebody a debt. It was only $120. In there, that is a lot though. I mean, I had to give the guy I owed money to my food every day. I was living on vegetables because whenever there was something good like chicken and pizza and stuff, I had to give it to him. I was living on just vegetables because I was taking forever to pay him. It was kinda, ‘Just wait a little bit longer. Here you go dude.’ I owed him for like 5 days. You could bet on anything in there. What I was betting on was basketball.”
Also during Oliveira’s stay in jail, he began to indulge in an activity that he avoided, even when he was getting in trouble, on the reservation.
“I would actually say that I started drinking more when I was in prison probably,” Oliveira said. “They had alcohol there. You know, shoe polish. You pour shoe polish through a sock and it drains out all of the ink and then the alcohol stays in it.”
And as his sentence was winding up in Windfield, Oliveira began a work release program with a plastics company named Wescon where he mixed dyes for ice scrapers. After about a year working there, he began a job at York Air Conditioners inserting copper coils. It was a good job with better pay, but just 3 months after working at York, a joke played between co-workers would result in Oliveira’s termination.
“I got fired because I was messing around with another co-worker of mine and…I called him a ‘Fag Boy’,” Oliveira explained. “I wrote it on a piece of paper. It was a report we had to write saying what we did that day. The boss ended up seeing it and he said that there was no tolerance for that so he fired me. My co-worker wrote it on my paper first, but I ended up erasing it, and I wrote it on his, but then he didn’t see it on his paperwork, so then the boss ended up seeing it, and then he asked who did it. He was mad as hell. I didn’t think that I would get fired, so I said, ‘I did it. But I was just messing with him.’”
“I got taken into the office,” Oliveira continued. “Before I went in, there was a lot of people there, and they were like, ‘No, you’re not going to get fired for that.’ And I came out and I was like, “Nope. I got canned.’ They were shocked. They were like, ‘What?!?’ They said, ‘Man, that guy must have a grudge against you or something. For that little thing?’ They’d seen people do worse than that. But I couldn’t stay there and talk to them because I had to get my stuff out of my locker and get escorted out.’
After losing his job at York, Oliveira was in a terrible bind. He was alone in Wichita, Kansas with no family to help him and no way to pay his bills. He did, however, have very close friends in his foster parents, Carol and Bill. When Oliveira had no idea what to do to keep his life on the right track, he called Carol for advice. Her suggestions not only would allow Oliveira to keep his life on track, but would also lead him back to boxing.
“I called my foster family, and they started telling me about the Native American school where they serve Native Americans and it is real cheap to go there,” Oliveira said. “It was named Haskell. They told me about Haskell, so I ended up enrolling there. But they still didn’t have a boxing gym there when I started. After I got there, I maybe didn’t box for about a year. I was still getting in fights out there. It was a Native American school and a lot of times people start getting drunk and they end up fighting. So I partied a lot. I can’t tell you how much I partied hard. And actually, Erik, my boxing coach, he was the one who found out about me when I went to school there.”
It would be a year into his time at Haskell before he would get into the fight that paired him up with his future trainer Erik Riley. But it would take significantly less time for Oliveira to start fighting at Haskell. About two weeks into his first semester, Oliveira would go to a party which would ignite a stream of fights that would occur throughout the year before he met his new boxing coach.
“I was with about 4 other guys, and we were all going out to party,” Oliveira described about his first fight in Lawrence. “We went to a club and everything. Then we went to an after-party. Then we saw a bunch of guys drinking out on a dirt road. There was a bunch of cars parked on both sides. But what we didn’t know was that they were all together. But we were cool with them, and I was making good friends with one of the guys there. We all ended up getting separated, so I was hanging out with the other guy that I was talking with. And the next thing that I know there is a fight going on on the other side. And me and the dude were talking, and we said, ‘Well, why don’t we go over and see who is fighting.’ And we went over and see who was fighting, and my buddy was getting beat up. And I was like, ‘What the hell?’ And then one guy pointed to me and said, ‘He’s with them, too.’ And then the guy I was hanging out with punched me on the side of my face. Then a bunch of guys started trying to grab me, and I started trying to rip loose. They were all reaching and throwing punches at me and I was trying to get loose and my shirt ended up getting pulled over my head…I was able to get loose though. But my friend unfortunately didn’t get loose, and he got beat up. There was a lot of them. Maybe like 14. We were really outnumbered.”
Oliveira did not forget the fight that occurred that night, nor could he forget what had happened to his friends. But there was also another thing that he remembered about that fight that would cause a veritable epoch of fights between himself and the men that outnumbered him that night.
“I remembered some of the faces of the guys that jumped me,” Oliveira explained. “So I went looking for them. The next day I ended up finding out who they were. And I would either just beat them up or threaten them. I didn’t know that they had a big family out there. I started fighting with their whole family. Every time I was somewhere I ended up seeing some of them or one of them, and they would want to fight me, so I ended up beating them up.”
But eventually Oliveira would bring his fights back into the ring. Still, boxing was not his sport of choice, but after punching out his future trainer Erik Riley at the toughman competition, Riley became an influential force which would lead Oliveira back into the ring…whether he liked it at first or not.
“Erik asked me to come work out with him at his little gym that he had there,” Oliveira said. “I told him that I would come back and do some workouts and stuff. And so we did. We started working out together, but he was more interested in training. He didn’t like it when I fought him the first time I met him.
He found out about this boxing gym in Topeka, Kansas. I went up there with him, and that is how I started going back to the gym. It didn’t take long for me to get in the ring. I think I fought only 5 or 6 times, and I was fighting like the number 1 and number 2 guys in the United States.”
So even though Oliveira was succeeding quickly in boxing, he still wasn’t putting everything he had into his training. One of the things that definitely shorted his interest in boxing was an interest in a different sport: basketball. Ever since he began attending Haskell University, Oliveira was on the university’s team, so his goals for success in sport rested there.
“During the amateurs I still wasn’t very interested in the sport,” Oliveira explained. “I played basketball for Haskell University. And I was really into basketball to the point where, if I tried hard enough, that I could get into the minor league. I was doing real good in basketball. I almost got All Conference for playing there, so I know I was doing good. I was about to make All Conference, making rebounds and double digits. I just needed a few more points and a few more buckets and a few more rebounds or whatever, but I sprained my ankle so I couldn’t make it to the last two games to make it to All Conference.”
This sprained ankle, as well as some of the other injuries he got from playing basketball, ended up having an impact on his boxing later on. He won 3 Golden Gloves, 3 Kansas/Oklahoma Regional Golden Gloves, and 1 Native American Championship. But it was during his second trip to Nationals in Nevada that his basketball injuries began to haunt him. When he fought Joe Espino at Nationals that year, he lost due to ref stoppage.
“The only reason that he won was because I sprained my ankle really bad,” Oliveira explained. “I tried to wrap it up, but it was like a cast on my back leg. But I was still winning until I dislocated my arm. The ref stopped the fight because my arm was out of the socket.”
But it wasn’t only basketball that was interfering with his boxing, it was also the partying.
“I was tired as hell,” Oliveira remembered. “I would drink, train, drink, train, party, train, go to school, party, train. I didn’t really train for these National Competitions. I would train a week, and then it would only be three or two days out of the week.”
“I was always beating them, but I did have a problem with training,” Oliveira continued. “I would always run out of gas before the third round. So I would be making it to these big tournaments, but I would never beat these number 1 or number 2 guys. But a lot of people would come up to me and say that they had never seen me around before, and how am I getting out into all of these big tournaments. And I started making a name…because these big tournaments. I would train maybe about a week, and then I would go back to school and start partying again. There was a couple of tournaments that I went to that I was drunk and didn’t sober up until I actually got there…and I would still make it to the finals. I tried to knock out as many of them as possible, but if I didn’t, I would always run out of gas. And that was a problem that I always had. But anyway, I ended up making it up to number 10 in the United States.”
And even though Oliveira’s dedication to his training had certain limitations, his coach, Erik Riley, kept pressing him to turn professional…and in 2006, Oliveira did.
“I still wasn’t that interested in boxing,” Oliveira said. “There wasn’t really any inspiration behind the decision to go pro for me. I think I may have needed some money or something. I think that’s when I turned pro. But my boxing coach…there was a lot of fights on TV, so my coach started asking me when I was going to turn pro. The people on TV, I had beaten some in the amateurs. He said that I should turn pro because there was a lot of boxers out there that I could beat. So I turned pro mostly out of his say.
“He ended up finding me a manager and everything,” Oliveira explained. “We went to a couple of places before Doug Ward. Right of the bat they would say, ‘We’ll take him.’ And then they would want to draw up a contract. And Erik, he wasn’t sure that I should take it because they wanted to keep me for 2 some years. He didn’t like the sound of the contract, but he would say, ‘Well, I’ll take a look at it.’ And then finally somebody had told him about Doug Ward. So then Doug Ward came down to the gym to see me sparring or whatever. He didn’t want to draw up a contact right away. He wanted to develop some trust right off the bat. He said he’ll manage me and do everything. So we saw that he was a good person and that he wasn’t just in it for money I guess. He started arranging me with opponents, and Erik thought that he was a real good manager.”
The first year of Oliveira’s pro career was filled with fast knockouts. He defeated Daniel Russel in 1.24 of round 1, Shawn Dean in 2.40 of round 1, Larry Lane in 2.54 of round 2, Reggie Brown in 1.21 of round 1, Mike Richardson in 1.05 of round 1, and Bertis McMillian in a mere 25 seconds of round 1. Meanwhile as his boxing was devastating his opponents right and left, Oliveira’s life outside of the ring remained relatively simple and somehow unchanged.
He was working at Wendy’s just as he did when he was an amateur. He was still in college finishing up his Associate’s degree in Liberal Arts. He was still dating a young woman who he had met back when he began college in 2004…and he was still partying…that is, until he quit his job and his girlfriend gave him an ultimatum.
“I was still drinking and partying, so I still didn’t really care that much about my career,” Oliveira said. “And that’s when I met my girl, my wife right now. The first year she let me go drinking and partying, but the second year she gave me an ultimatum, either stop drinking or she was going to leave me. So I stopped drinking and things started getting a lot more boringer because I wasn’t out partying. So I started training a lot more, training a lot harder. And me and my girl got a place, but I wasn’t working, so we started needing the extra money for my boxing fights. I get paid a lot more now than my first eight fights, which were like $400 or $500 dollars or something like that. But the biggest change has to be my wife. She’s the one who made me stop drinking…”
“But then I stopped working,” Oliveira admitted. “She was the only one working. She was paying for everything, clothes, roof over our heads, everything. I wasn’t working. I was like a bum. She was getting mad about it too because when I did find a job…the job would have me work for like a day or two. I’d make twenty bucks or like thirty dollars. Fast food jobs, like at Bangal’s.”
The impact of this lack of finances took its toll in the second year Oliveira was fighting as a professional. On February 3, 2007, Oliveira had to go the distance for the first time in his pro career. No longer was it a lack of training that interfered with his boxing, it was a lack of money.
“I actually thought that I was going to knock Mike Word out quicker,” Oliveira explained, “but money was always an issue, so the day of the fight, I donated blood…I thought, I’ll donate blood and get money, and then I will get more money once I am there for fighting him…it was like $600 bucks or something. But, it drained me really, really, really bad. By the time I got into the ring, the first round felt like round 6. I felt like falling over. I thought I might actually lose the fight, but I pulled it off and got a majority decision. But during that fight I almost dropped him twice, but I just didn’t have enough energy to finish him.”
Even with the lack of endurance stemming from donating blood, Oliveira won enough rounds to win a decision over Word. Word disputed the decision, so Oliveira fought a rematch with him later that year, and with his reserves in order, he would still have to go the distance, but he would win a much more convincing victory.
“I think by the second Mike Word fight, my boxing skills were a lot better,” Oliveira explained about their rematch. “I mean, I could brawl, but using my boxing technique, he could barely catch me. The second fight was a lot better because I beat the hell out of him.”
And as the victories continued and Oliveira’s training intensified, his relationship to boxing was still somewhat ambivalent. But like many fighters who enter the game due to not desire, but by talent and necessity, Oliveira would have a match which would change his relationship to boxing forever. It all happened in February of 2008 when Oliveira traveled to LaPorte, Indiana to fight local fighter Nick Cook for the USBC light heavyweight title.
“I want to tell you that I almost knocked out Nick Cook, but I broke my hand in the 4th or 5th round,” Oliveira explained about the fight. “I had to fight the rest of the fight, all the rest of the ten rounds, with just my jab and left hook. But he did not push me at all. He could not beat me, but he was very lucky that he got a draw. When I broke my hand, I told my coach, and he just told me to go on. So I just used my jab, and I still beat him really bad. I thought I won that fight with just one arm. He was all bloody and I thought that I had it in the bag. I thought I did real good for fighting with one arm.”
And even though he had Cook bloodied by the end of the fight, Oliveira was given his first draw.
“I felt bad. I mean, I felt like I lost,” Oliveira commented about the effect of the judges’ decision. “I told my manager that I wanted a rematch with him. I just felt really bad. I can’t tell you…I felt like I lost actually. I was just really upset with myself. My manager and trainer told me that I did good and it was okay, but to me, it felt like a loss. But I made a point to myself that I was not going to let anything else come close again. That was just a horrible feeling. I didn’t like it.”
Oliveira KO's Phil Williams, Courtesy MinnesotaBoxing.com
And it was this new drive not to leave the decision to hometown judges which Oliveira brought to his fight with Phil Williams in 2008. Though Minnesota fight fans did not know it at the time, this mysterious fighter from the Menominee nation who had a lifetime of fighting behind him was not about to leave the ring that night without a victory.
“That draw, that just felt horrible,” Oliveira reflected. “So I told myself that if a fight is close, I’m gonna go out there and make sure I don’t leave it to the hands of the judges. Knowing that, I think that is what made me get up when Phil dropped me twice. After the second knockdown between rounds my coach told me that I might be losing the fight. I remembered the Nick Cook fight and knew that I wasn’t going to go through that again. So I went out there stronger. When I started throwing punches and in the 6th round, I actually felt him getting weaker, so I kept throwing them a lot harder. I was right on him, just trying to get that knockout. I caught him with an uppercut, and I think it knocked out his mouthpiece. So they had to stop the fight to give him his mouthpiece. So now I was thinking that he was really tired because he was going back to his corner, trying to get a break. I knew that he didn’t want to fight. And after I dropped him, I knew I had him because I ain’t gonna be like him. When you knock a fighter down, you don’t just jump on him and start throwing punches because you are going to wear yourself out. So I just took my time. I dropped him then and then I dropped him in the next. I won and I got what I deserved. I didn’t go all out until the last couple of rounds. But I got him.”
And that night, Oliveira earned the respect of many Minnesota fight fans. By the time he returned to the Hinckley Casino, fans began to cheer for him: the first time when he won a decision over Rayco Saunders in January of 2009, and later that year in June when he sent Otis Griffin flying back onto the canvas with a right uppercut that set off like dirty bomb which undulated through the room and sent the crowd leaping to their feet with cheers. This power did not go unnoticed by Minnesota promoters. Second’s Out promoter, Tony Grygelko, decided to sign Oliveira on for a few fights. This agreement will bring Oliveira back to Minnesota in the near future so that fans can continue to see this once hesitant, but always promising, powerhouse light-heavyweight. As he fights through Minnesota, one thing is for sure, fans will get to see a surprising and adaptable fighter who is freshly and seriously committed to reaching the upper echelons of boxing. Now that his drive, his life, his training, and his focus are all in order, Oliveira, the man who once surprised the reservation by his ability to knock out grown men when he was just 11 years old, will share the current peak of all his fighting experience with our state as he works his way to the top. And those very fans who questioned him that night back in 2008 will now be the beneficiaries who get to view, first-hand, the current road Oliveira is taking to get him to world championship.
“Now, these last couple of years, I really started getting into it,” Oliveira stated. “Even when I am not boxing, I am thinking about boxing. My goal is actually that I will make it to the top. That’s the thing that I want to do. That is my main goal…to actually be number one. I mean you don’t know how good you are until you fight the number one guy…and now, I want to be that guy.”